Jeff Kaplan, the lead designer on World of Warcraft, explains just how you'll itch that Lich...
Please note this is the second part of a feature from PC Zone magazine. The first part of the feature, which looks at Warcraft lore, can be read here.
So why do you have to be so obscenely powerful to enter the Lich King's kingdom? "We think that the players between levels 30 and 40 already have so many things to do in WOW that they haven't run out of content yet," explains Jeff Kaplan. "It's really all about the players who've reached max level, whether they solo or whether they PvP, whether they raid or roleplay: if they are max level they all feel that they want more."
As such the entry zones in Northrend are aimed at levels between 68 and 70, and are interestingly a million miles away from your fi rst faltering steps through The Burning Crusade's Dark Portal. Back then it was dramatic, but the entirety of Azeroth seemed to be on the other side - with everyone crammed into a single place and hoping they didn't lag out, kill each other, or both.
This time, however, you're entering into either the lush, verdant Howling Fjord or the autumn-tinged Borean Tundra, and it's a great deal more spread out than before.
"Plus we're giving all new players into the expansion interaction with Arthas," picks up Kaplan. "We were too protective of Illidan in The Burning Crusade, so you're interacting with Arthas straight away.You're talking to him, having these moments with him - you don't have to be a raider just to see him".
ARTHAS ON THE ROCKS
You know the drill kids: get quests, kill shit, collect stuff and dance naked. It's the same template we know and love, but Northrend still brings a gaggle of features to Azeroth's statistical cogs and gears.
For a start, there's a new profession: Inscription. With this, Blizzard are looking to buck the trend of adding stats or useable items, describing Inscription as "Enchanting for spells and abilities," reinventing the wheel in the process.
"The idea behind it is to give players even more specialisation options beyond the talent trees," explains Kaplan in a manner that would bamboozle the WOW-phobic to death." As a possible example, a mage could have their Frost Nova enhanced for either greater range or longer snare duration - our intention is to provide viable options rather than one 'best' Inscription for each modifiable spell or ability."
This, in less complex terms, means that there's potential to differentiate characters here way beyond the 10 extra talent points that players are already looking forward to.
Another change to the expansion format is the introduction of Hero Classes, the first of which is the Death Knight, examples of whom were the Lich King's work experience chaps in Warcraft III. In the spirit of balance, though, this character won't be immediately available, requiring legwork to unlock it fully.
"While originally we planned for characters to become Death Knights, we felt that players shouldn't be required to lose the character they've played for so long," explains Kaplan.
"Instead, we're looking at how we can involve players in the story of freeing a Death Knight from the Lich King's grasp through a quest chain. Once complete, this will allow a player to create new high-level Death Knight characters."
What's more, with any luck, we'll see more Hero classes some time after release, the hot Zitron tip being some kind of Archdruid quest directly connected to Malfurion Stormrage and the much-anticipated Emerald Dream.